Cantabs travelled down the A14 to meet Mildenhall in the first round of the Cambs County Cup, hoping for a return to form and a big win over the team that our 3rds narrowly beat in last year's final. Hats off to prop George Phillips, who seemed to miss all details of the meet time and ended up taking a £40 taxi over to the hosts...should have picked up his bloody phone.
We fielded a solid looking squad, with a fair few faces having represented the first team this season - form and attendance at training had been strong and we were all ready to prove a point. The weather was a mixed bag, with a fierce wind blowing straight down the pitch promising to cause a few headaches for our kicking game. Denman won the toss and opted to go into the wind for the first half.
After the kick-off Mildenhall received the ball and set off towards our try line, punching through with their forwards and playing simple, well drilled rugby. Within the first minute Cantabs ill-discipline at the breakdown lead to a penalty, and Mildenhall went for the early points which they duly took, 3-0 to the home team.
This run of play unfortunately continued for the next 20 minutes, with the strong wind preventing us from being able to clear our lines and forcing us to play rugby in our own 22. Four further penalties came during this time, 2 of which were converted, 9-0 to the hosts. It's worth noting however that our defence during this spell was nothing short of brilliant, with the forwards putting in some crunching tackles and not letting Mildenhall near our try line. We welcomed back Sherwood after an absence over the past few weeks, and he was making himself known at the breakdown and slotting in some big hits. Ed Kirkham was also throwing himself around, putting all thoughts of his prize winning allotment to one side for the afternoon and playing like a man possessed.
Our set pieces were functioning well, with the scrum causing concern for the Mildenhall forwards and the lineouts (mostly) providing clean ball for the backs, with Woolley making a nuisance of himself during our defensive lines.
With 25 minutes gone, we got our game faces on and took the game to Mildenhall, playing simple running rugby and proving what our backs could do. Lovett spotted some space on the left after one breakdown and shipped the ball to Swarty on the left wing, who promptly stepped their wing and outpaced two more of their players for the try line. A brilliant solo effort that NFL Lovett took the extras for. 9-7 and things were looking up.
Soon after we were continuing to pile on the pressure, and our simply backline moves were gaining us further space to play in. We rarely practice what we preach, but our second try came from the rarely spotted crash-crash-spin. The forwards pulled in the Mildenhall defence with powerful straight running, and Owen provided quick ball to Lovett, to Alex BJ, to Tozer, to Harri on the wing to go over (I'm sure I could have got the points... but Harri's ego needed the try more than I did ). Half time rolled around, and we found ourselves 12-9 up.
We kicked off the second half with the wind in our favour, hoping to use it to our advantage with Lovett kicking some searching ball deep into the Mildenhall 22. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before El Capitano decided to do some tackling with his legs rather than his arms, and the referee asked Denman to take a break for 10 minutes. Minutes later however, the Mildenhall hooker took some lessons straight from the school of Denman and went for the unconventional knee-to-the-back rucking technique, which earned him a spell in the bin and gave us 8 minutes of 14 a-side rugby.
For the next 10 minutes we struggled to tame the wind, with a few of our speculative kicks over the top from Owen, Swarty and Lovett all making the opposition dead ball line. However, our discipline and strength at the breakdown earned us a few penalties in the opposition half, which Lovett chose to kick at goal. The wind carried his first two attempts, but third time lucky. Shaggy swapped places with Alex Jeffries after a great 50 minutes at flanker, with his hard work at the ruck giving us the penalty that took us to 15-9.
Nat and Woolley were proving to be a second row to be reckoned with, and Woolley carried ball all day long back to Mildenhall, time after time going on probing runs through the home sides defence. After one of these runs the ball was shipped left through the backs, with Sam coming up in to the back line and Tozer taking the ball to ground on the 5. From there, we quickly recycled to the right and Lovett presented the ball to a rampaging Cyril, who made no mistake and went over. Lovett slotted the conversion, 22-9.
Time was ticking down now, and fair play to Mildenhall, they spent the last five minutes of the game determined to get themselves on the scoreboard again. We continued to defend with real strength and depth, including an effort that we held up with minutes to spare. Their grit and determination did provide them with the points though, and they crossed the line with the last play of the game. Their kicker converted, and the final whistle blew - 22-16 to Cantabs and a much needed win. Great effort from all involved, and a level of commitment that we should be proud of.
MOTM - Ed Kirkham
DOTD - Denman